An afternoon spent on Racebook

In the wake of the events in Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island, and the subsequent conversations we’ve all had about black lives mattering and the treatment of black Americans by police officers, I don’t suppose it’s any surprise that some white folks have decided to push back and challenge the prevailing “white cops are killing unarmed black men, and this is a bad thing” narrative. Over the past several weeks, I’ve seen quite a few instances of it in my own life, and I suspect that most of you have as well… And I’m not talking about anonymous racists posting n-word-filled rants about why Michael Brown deserved to be shot dead in Ferguson. I know we’ve all seen plenty of those. I’m talking about something much less explicit, and, for that reason, exponentially more difficult to respond to. I’m talking about comments being made by acquaintances, neighbors and family members, who I typically don’t think of as being bigoted.

First, it was an old high school acquaintance posting a comment about all of the white police officers killed by black men, and asking why Al Sharpton wasn’t on CNN, expressing outrage about that. Next, it was someone on a local discussion board posting about a case in which a black cop had killed an unarmed white man, asking why people weren’t in the streets about it, setting fire to cars. And they kept coming. The comments themselves weren’t overtly racist, but the implication seemed to be clear – “Why should we care about these dead black people?”

Well, I had a two hour block of time this afternoon and I decided to invest it on Facebook, engaging with some of these folks, doing my best to be understanding, trying to give the the benefit of the doubt when possible, and seeing if, just maybe, I could convince them that they don’t need to feel quite so threatened by the prospect of an open, honest discussion on race in America. And, as I suspect that each of us over this holiday season will wade into similar waters, talking with relatives and the like about issues of race and lethal force, I thought I’d share one such online discussion which I just had on the Ypsi Area Discussion page, and open up a dialogue here about how to engage with white folks, who, when confronted by cases such as these, instinctively become defensive.

For what it’s worth, I understand, to some extent, where these people are coming from. Having grown up outside of New York City as the Tawana Brawley case was being played out in the press, I don’t have a great deal of love for Al Sharpton, who, in my opinion, has made a career out of exploiting black tragedy, but I don’t think that we can afford to turn away from this conversation just because he and others may have been pushing their own personal agendas. It’s just too important of an issue to keep hiding from. Furthermore, I’d also agree that a conversation on the use of lethal force on the part of police officers shouldn’t be restricted to just those cases in which the people killed happen to have been black. While race is certainly an issue here, so is class. And I think we need to talk broadly about the authority we give to those who police all of us, and not just those of us who are black. And, lastly, I’d probably agree with these folks that any discussion about these current cases shouldn’t happen without first acknowledging the context in which they’ve taken place. I believe, however, we’d likely disagree on how we define that context. My sense is that a lot of white folks pushing back against the “white cops are killing unarmed black men, and this is a bad thing” narrative would like to add a caveat about how black men are quite often violent law-breakers, and therefor somehow deserving of a higher level of police scrutiny. (And, yes, that’s racist on their part.) I’d prefer, however, to draw the lines more broadly, removing the element of race, and talking about the culture in which we live, in which many of our young people, regardless of their color, see no futures for themselves, and in which the police, instead of being held accountable for their actions, are rewarded with online fundraisers. We live in a violent, nihilistic culture in which many of us feel alienated, unfulfilled and desperate. And that’s true on both sides of the law. And it has to change if we’re going to survive.

All of this, of course, isn’t to say that race wasn’t an issue in these cases. I suspect that it was. I suspect that, in many of these recent instances, these people would still be alive if they had been white. And I believe we need to talk about that. For the purposes of initiating an open, honest dialogue, though, which brings in what I’ll call “the defensive white folks,” I think that it’s important to stress that there’s commonality, and that this is about more than race.

As for the discussion below, I don’t know that tact I chose to take is necessarily the best, and that’s why I’ve chosen this exchange to share. I’d like to have your feedback… How would you respond to someone who, for instance, in response to a conversation about Ferguson, decides to point to a story about a white couple being killed by a black man?





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  1. dragon
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    It couldn’t possibly be that people are concerned about justice in violent crimes, could it?

    “A black teenager was convicted Tuesday of a newlywed soldier and his pregnant wife in Colorado”

    Which is almost always the case.
    Compared to:

    ” It took jurors less than three days to decide that there wasn’t enough to convince them to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.”
    A New York City man’s death last month resulted in part from a chokehold applied by a police officer trying to arrest him, a medical examiner said Friday, in ruling it a homicide.

    “Word had just come that a grand jury had decided not to indict the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, on any charge at all. “

    Which is also almost always the case.

  2. Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:16 am | Permalink


    “Race baiters.”

    Poor Christian white people who reproduce. Such a sad and persecuted lot.

  3. Posted December 8, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    You could encourage them to read this.

    (From the #fergusonsyllabus, with thanks to the organizers of last week’s “Next Steps” summit in Ann Arbor.)

  4. Frosted Flakes
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Nobody has time to feel sad over every horrible thing that happens. Nobody has the time and energy to feel outrage over every injustice–it is unfortunate but a fact. For this reason it is important that we are discerning when it comes to the specific events that we are choose to label as “unjust exemplifications” of a larger pattern of injustice. Choosing the Michael Brown shooting as the moment to rally and protest will prove to be a huge step backward, in terms of race-relations and it will widen the already disconnected gap between liberal and conservative parties. Both parties seem to take turns abandoning REASON in order to grab a little bit of power and inorder to bolster their own prejudice. Communication breakdown! Worst holiday conversations ever!

  5. Frosted Flakes
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    In response to the material offered by RAW I would say I have still not encountered a single person, in my conversations, who feels that “black lives do not matter”.

    Ideology is most dangerous when it takes on the form of what someone else is believed to believe.

  6. anonymous
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    The YAD is 96% white.

  7. 734
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    There are some people who you will never win over. They don’t want to think of themselves as racists, but they are. The could look at a photo of Ronald in Reagan in sweatpants and think nothing of it, but have a fit if they were to see Obama wearing a short sleeve shirt in the White House, saying it’s undignified.

  8. Frosted Flakes
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    I read police officers murdered in the line of duty is way own (in 2013 less officers murdered than in any year since the 60’s).I also suspect more officers are ex military and perhaps have a lower threshold for what constitutes justified lethal force, but I don’t have any proof of this. I suspect there is a correlation. The tradeoff for an officer might be increased risk for lowered threshold for what constitutes justified lethal force. In order to have a meaningful conversation about the threshold for justifiable lethal force SPECIFIC cases must be evaluated by the public. Facts need to be agreed upon. Body cameras will help big time!

  9. John Galt
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I was once pulled over for speeding and I’m white. Therefore racial profiling does not exist.

  10. Anonymous
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    What I’ve taken away from all of this is that white people are incredibly frightened and cops are no exception.

  11. Meta
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Does the police reform movement have legs?

    How and why certain events in politics and culture coalesce into a critical mass is always an interesting thing to ponder. Sometimes it can happen when all hope has been lost.

    In chaos theory, there’s the enigmatic image of the butterfly in the Amazon whose wing fluttering cascades into a hurricane in the northern hemisphere. How to explain the instantaneous shifting swings and swoops of swarming birds and schools of minnows? In politics, some like to cite the downfall of the Soviet empire: seemingly eternal and invulnerable one day, gone the next. I’m wondering: Are we seeing an example of such mysterious critical mass now in the sudden focus on excessive police behavior in America?

    Police and prosecutorial misconduct is hardly a new phenomenon. But it seems to be getting worse as the crime rate goes down. I can’t recall anything like the wide-spread and continuing citizen and media reaction following the events in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and Cleveland, Ohio. (We humans seem to like to arrange things in threes, which may be aesthetically and politically the most satisfying clumping of events.)

    Ferguson set things off due to the excessive number of gunshots used by an inexperienced cop to kill an unarmed 18-year-old Black male. The town is an example of white leadership over a predominantly Black population, a condition following a demographic shift. Right-wing, knee-jerk defenders of police fell in line and put the cop on a pedestal and defended the prosecutor whose slick grand jury manipulation deflected any accountability for police misconduct.

    Soon, as if written in a script to accentuate the police misconduct in Ferguson, a Staten Island prosecutor guided a grand jury to let off without even a shaming finger shake a pack of cops who strangled a 43-year-old, unarmed Black male for selling “loosies” or untaxed, individual cigarettes to feed his family. It was like Jean Valjean and that famous loaf of bread. And it was all on videotape, precluding the officers from making a waistband plea to the court — as in, “He seemed to be reaching into his waistband.” Once the obese man was subdued and dying, incredibly, police officers — first responders! — are seen standing over the body like they were waiting for the donut truck.

    The video was so damning the right-wing police defense league broke apart. Bill O’Reilly, Charles Krauthammer, Rand Paul and others went soft. Something was terribly wrong here. The big family man was an American entrepreneur and the cops were working for The Taxman! How could this happen in America?

    Finally, there was the rank absurdity of a Cleveland cop caught on video arriving on the scene in a fast squad car. He leaps out of the car and within two seconds unloads his service revolver on a 12-year-old Black boy who had been brandishing a fake gun. Yes, in retrospect, this was not very smart of the child. But was it any stupider than the Cleveland Police Department that had hired the man as a cop. This was a man who had been fired by a previous employer who dumped him because he was emotionally unbalanced and a terrible shot on the pistol range. They concluded he was “incompetent” to be a police officer. Cleveland’s PD is now under US Justice Department oversight. We’ll have to wait and see what happens to the Cleveland killer cop. Given the political climate, he may be festooned with garlands of stink weed and sacrificed to the media gods.

    As for the three Black males, none of them qualified as saints or were without reasons to criticize their behavior. They were just human. The point is, their pride and their egos — their lives! — were not respected by police officers whose pride and egos are recognized ad nauseum. Cops are legally armed and paid to protect the citizens of their community. These males were all citizens. Somehow things have gotten so skewed in this country that a cop’s ego is sacrosanct and allowed to run free under the influence of fear and adrenaline. Cop narcissism can be comic to witness, but it can also be lethal when seriously challenged. As many have pointed out, prosecutors rely on cops first and foremost and are not inclined to find fault with them. When it comes to police or prosecutorial misconduct, it’s a match made in Hell.

    Read more:

  12. D'Real
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Ypsilanti is at the intersectionality of oppression. Where is our ‘equity’ agency in the present, vicious cycle of oppression?

    The consequences of sharing one’s story online and offline is more distributive, it does not compel subtle, substantive change. The above blog post may appeal to the heart of the reader, but emotions and values will ultimately dominate the culture here in Ypsilanti.

    Until the vast majority of concerned citizens are willing to build a culture of accountability that thwarts oppression (and injustice!); fostering relationships based on shared values will remain moot, and, the pathologies, and, praxis reflected online especially, will continue to edify said oppression.

    Dissatisfied (but it ain’t all about me, or my thoughts!),

  13. Mr. X
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I believe MLK was right when he observed, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” And I think the next generation will likely be better on the issue of race than their predecessors. With that said, I’d be interested in exploring concrete things which could be done to, as you say, “thwart oppression” and “build accountability.”

  14. Kit
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone else had this letter from a police officer forward to them by a family member?

    Today, I stopped caring about my fellow man. I stopped caring about my community, my neighbors, and those I serve.

    I stopped caring today because a once noble profession has become despised, hated, distrusted, and mostly unwanted.

    I stopped caring today because parents refuse to teach their kids right from wrong and blame us when they are caught breaking the law. I stopped caring today because parents tell their little kids to be good or “the police will take you away” embedding a fear from year-one. Moms hate us in their schools because we frighten them and remind them of the evil that lurks in the world. They would rather we stay unseen, but close by if needed, but readily available to “fix their kid”.

    I stopped caring today because we work to keep our streets safe from mayhem in the form of reckless, drunk, high, or speeding drivers, only to be hated for it, yet hated even more because we didn’t catch the drunk before he killed someone they may know. Never less, we are just another tool used by government to generate “revenue”.

    I stopped caring today because Liberals hate the police as we carry guns, scare kids, and take away their drugs. We always kill innocent people with unjust violence. We are called bullies for using a taser during a fight, but are condemned further for not first tasing the guy who pulls a gun on us. And if we do have to shoot, we are asked “why didn’t you just shoot the gun out of their hand?” And when one of us is killed by the countless attacks that do happen (but are rarely reported in the mainstream media) the haters say, “Its just part of the job”.

    I stopped caring today because Conservatives hate us as we are “the Government”. We try to take away their guns, freedoms, and liberty at every turn. We represent a “Police State” where “jackbooted-badge wearing thugs” randomly attack innocent people without cause or concern for constitutional rights. We are Waco, Ruby Ridge, and Rodney King all rolled into one lone police officer stopping to help change an old lady’s tire.

    I stopped caring today as no one wants us around, but instantly demands answers, results, arrests, when a crime takes place. If a crime isn’t solved within the allocated 60 minutes it takes CSI on television, we are inept, incompetent, or covering something up. If we do get “lucky” it was just that and everyone with a Facebook account can post wonderful comments of how “they” would solve the case and how “we” and not nearly as clever.

    I stopped caring today because a video of a cop six states away, from a department that you never heard of, screws up and forgets his oath of honor, thus firing up an internet lynch-mob of cop haters because “we all do the same things” even though 99% of us work twice as hard not to end up in the news and to still be “the good guys”. We are “militarized” because we wear body armor and kevlar helmets when shots are fired or rocks thrown at us and carry scary looking rifles even though everyone knows that they are easier to shoot and are more accurate than a handgun or a shotgun.

    I stopped caring today because the culture of today’s instantly connected youth is only there to take and never give back. To never accept responsibility for ones actions, but to blame everyone else instead of themselves. To ask “what is in it for me?” versus “what can I do for you?” To idolize gangsters, thugs, sexual promiscuous behavoir, and criminals over hard work, dedication, and achievement. To argue that getting stoned should be a right, yet getting a job or an education is a hassle. To steal verus earn. To hate versus help.

    Yes, I stopped caring today.

    But tomorrow, I will put my uniform back on,……………….. and I will care again.

    Lt. Daniel Furseth
    DeForest Police (WI)

  15. XXX
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Someone should inform the participants in the Ypsi Area Discussion, apparently people do talk about it when white people are killed by cops.

  16. anonymous
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    When I google

    unarmed white youth killed by police

    it turns up nothing.

  17. KKT
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    A FB post from a high school friend of mine.

    “So Lebron James and several other players wore “I can’t breathe” t-shirts during warm ups such bullshit…… Just wondering did he wear a t-shirt say rest in peace Officer Chris Matlosz when he was sitting in his police car and an individual walked up to his car and shot him 3 times at point blank for no reason hey Lebron how bout that t-shirt you piece of shit did you even here about the loss of officer Matlosz. So tired of the black and white bullshit how bout the loss of life how about a t-shirt that says tragic loss of life sucks. We as a country needs to come together and all tragedies.”

  18. Posted December 9, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    “Well, I had a two hour block of time this afternoon and I decided to invest it on Facebook” [translation] I am one of those people who lives their entire life on Facebook.

  19. Ben Miller
    Posted December 9, 2014 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    I hope everyone gets and understands that just because black people kill white people as well as white people killing black people that there are privileged groups and groups that have had historic oppressions upon their communities which still reverberate.

    Black people, women, LGBT people, non Christians (basically, people who have had less power in society) have historically faced violence imposed upon them, not only individually (by criminals, but also by officials) but also institutionally. No amount of white dudes saying “Oh but white people get killed too” will change that. It just makes the posters look dumb, uninformed, and whiter / straighter / more privileged, that they haven’t spent time around communities where this truth is obvious and doesn’t have to be taught.

  20. FS
    Posted December 10, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    I don’t mind sharing their names. What was said was said in a public forum. Here is another example.

  21. anonymous
    Posted December 10, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    That’s not the son of the City Attorney, is it?

  22. D'Real
    Posted December 10, 2014 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m not certain whether I should be appalled by the fact that we acknowledge white privilege emphatically, or, that we honor it unabashedly.

    “Sunlight and vitamins determine our skin color-not race.”

  23. Posted December 11, 2014 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    I agree with Ben wholeheartedly.

  24. dot dot dash
    Posted December 12, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    From a relative:

    Does anyone remember Detective Melvin Santiago? He was a Jersey City police officer who was shot to death just a month ago, on July 13th. Santiago was white. His killer, Lawrence Campbell , was black. Does anyone recall Obama appearing before national television and calling for justice for Officer Santiagos family? Does anyone recall Eric Holder rushing to Jersey City to see that justice was done?

    How about Officer Jeffrey Westerfield? He was a Gary, Indiana police officer who was shot to death on July 6, 2014. Officer Westerfield was white, his killer, Carl LeEllis Blount, Jr. was black. where was Obama? Where was Holder?

    Officer Perry Renn was an Indianapolis , Indiana police officer who was shot to death July 5, 2014, the day before Officer Westerfield was killed. Officer Renn was white. His killer, Major Davis, was black. I don’t recall any mention by Obama about the untimely death of Officer Renn. and, I doubt that Eric Holder rushed to Indianapolis to make sure justice was served.

    Vermillion Parish Deputy Sheriff Allen Bares was gunned down by two men June 23, 2014 in Louisiana . Deputy Bares was white. His two killers, Quintlan Richard and Baylon Taylor were black. was Obama outraged? Did Eric Holder rush to Louisiana to make sure that the family of Deputy Bares found justice?

    Detective Charles Dinwiddie of the Killen, Texas Police Department was murdered on May 11, 2014 by Marvin Lewis Guy, a black male. Officer Dinwiddie was white. Do you recall seeing anything abouth that on the news? Certainly, the white citizens of Killeen didn’t take to the streets to loot and burn businesses. Do you recall any mention of Obama or Holder here?

    Then, there is Officer Kevin Jordan of Griffin , Georgia Police Department. He was gunned down on May 31, 2014. Officer Jordan was black, his killer, Michael Bowman was white. This was a white man murdering a black police officer. Where was Jesse Jackson? Where was “The Reverend” al Sharpton? Was there looting and burning on the streets of Griffin , Georgia ? No, in fact, we don’t recall hearing about this one in the news as well. Why? You can draw your own conclusions.

    Over the past 60 days, there have been five reported deaths of police officers by gunshot in the U.S. Of those, four were white officers who were murdered by black men. Blacks complain that white officers treat black men more aggressively on the street. You can draw your own conclusions on that one, as well.

  25. facebook stalker
    Posted December 13, 2014 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    I just now learned that John was barred from the Normal Park page for posting pictures of “African American minors playing by a drain pipe and commenting about evolution and intelligence.”

  26. Posted December 14, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Monday evening!

    Let’s make this big.

  27. Posted November 11, 2015 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    How long will the most affluential blogger in Washtenaw County champion white silence? And white supremacy?

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